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The New Kid

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Satonaka peeks at the boy in front of her, and it's easy to study him because he isn't paying attention to her. He seems to have taken a great interest in the windows for he is silent for most of the journey to the faculty room.

What they're doing is nothing big; just delivering some forms for one of their teachers. It's a standard errand, and their class is normally very cooperative with those sorts of things. You could get yourself a volunteer in under five seconds, usually – but then something in the air sort of shifted when Hanamura raised his hand.

Not many people were fond of the boy whose family's business was stealing away the regulars of Inaba's local stores. If she was being honest with herself, she hadn't been too happy either. Some strangers from the city leeching off the livelihoods of the community? There was some form of injustice in there that rankled at her, and it bothered her even more that this problem was beyond a solution that she could execute with her fists.

But then life isn't like a Kung Fu movie, is it? she thinks when she catches herself imagining a scenario: a showdown by the old temple, her against the city people. Because they are used to urban living, they don't last too long, and with a few fancy moves, she is victorious in expelling them from her hometown.

The thought makes her smile, particularly when she tries to imagine Hanamura here as her last opponent. Sometimes she thought he looked too skinny – did his parents feed him or what? He probably wouldn't last too long against her seasoned fists.

Okay, Chie, enough bashing the new kid. He has it rough and you're not helping any by making him the punching bag (even if it is just in your head).

They reach the faculty, and she realizes that since he had (gallantly) taken most of the forms, he couldn't open the door.

"Wait, I'll get that," she says, trotting around him, and when she reached out, her arm brushes against his.

The contact nearly makes her jump with surprise, but it doesn't seem to phase him. He sweeps right past her and before going any further, he murmurs a small "Thanks."

His gratitude makes her feel guilty. She tells herself, I can't forget he's a person too. That brief, accidental contact – his sleeve against her sleeve, his arm against her arm – reminds her of this. He's solid and he's human, but all everyone saw was that label they'd put on him.

Murderer of the Inaba shopping district.

Outsider.

They aren't exactly friends, but she talks to him, doesn't she? He sits near her after all. They're friendly acquaintances and they talk about inane things like the weather and school lessons. Sometimes they have lunch together, and sometimes they pair up when they have team sports for P.E. But they don't speak outside of the school, and they don't hang out over the weekends.

She thinks it's a pity that he's being judged for what his parents do.

So maybe it is pity and a sense of self-righteousness that compelled her to raise her hand back there, after a silence took place following the teacher's request for a second volunteer.

They don't really talk much during this incident, but there are more of these in the near future (this regardless of what anyone thought about interacting with the "city kid"). It's during one such opportunity that she manages to break through to the person beneath the harsh labels. She can't remember which specific one, exactly, but ever since then her opinion of him has changed.

She still thinks he's too much of a shrimp to match up to her in a fair fight, but she also wonders why she ever pitied him. He is talkative and perverted in that way guys are, and he has this talent for talking himself INTO trouble, rather than out of it. Strangely, it is this quality that gains him some form of acceptance within their community; after all, such a trouble-magnet could hardly be blamed for all of his misfortunes.

Sometimes, she's not quite so sure why she bothered with him. This doubt happens most frequently whenever he calls her up at ungodly points of the evening to get her thoughts on something that has crossed his mind. Boys, she discovered, think of many stupid things in under a minute, and double that when the night is yet young.

She's glad she knows him as well as she does, though. She is glad of this when she rushed off to the TV world to save Yukiko, and she is glad of this now.

Hanamura can be reliable when it counts.

Now, when they go together on classroom errands, the journey itself is rarely silent. Peppered with some silly conversations, probably, but rarely like that first time.